I practiced civil inattention long before I knew what it was called. For instance: as a kid growing up in Philly, I took public transportation a lot and regularly pretended the person sitting next to me wasn’t picking their nose/crying/talking to themselves. For instance: as a young woman fresh out of college and living in San Francisco, I regularly pretended not to hear my upstairs neighbors arguing or see my next-door neighbor, whose bedroom window was directly across from mine, walking around in her underwear. (Who knows what she saw me doing?) For Instance: in my current neighborhood our backyards all butt right up next to each other, and, because we live in such temperate weather here on the Monterey Coast, spring, summer, and fall we all pretty much live in our backyards, so life is a constant exercise in civil inattention—for all of us. (For privacy reasons, I won’t say more.) Sure, there are times when civil inattention must be breached. A frantically barking dog might warrant a text message. Could you put the dog in? Or a loud bang. Everything okay over there? But mostly we just pretend not to hear what we hear. I mean, how rude to say, “Boy, you guys sure got wasted last night.” Or maybe, “Have you ever tried Gas-X?”
For sure, some people abuse the civility of others. Pre-pandemic, I was on a transporter from long-term parking to the airport where a guy was arguing with his girlfriend on his cellphone. We all just sat there pretending not to hear him ranting at her about some important dinner that she’d missed. “I did too tell you!” he spat. “And you said you’d be there!” Cell phone etiquette, don’t get me started.
But what about ZOOM where we’re now all of us in each other’s homes? Is it okay for, say, a yoga teacher to comment on someone’s décor? Or for a business associate to notice your kid walk through and say, “Why isn’t he in school?” Or, “A sweater? Really? Wouldn’t it just be easier to turn your air conditioning down?” What’s appropriate? What’s the protocol? I think it needs to be established. Soon. Breaches are already happening.
Please weigh in.
So, that’s it for today. Remember: Live the love. It’s all we’ve got.